|This is my contribution to Round Fourteen of ABC Wednesday. For the fifth time I am focusing on people – some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, but all with a tale to tell.|
Born in Gloucestershire in 1751, Hanger was the son of a country squire who dabbled in politics and who managed to land himself the title of Baron Coleraine even though his claim was but a distant one.
George Hanger was the youngest of his three sons and as such was destined for a career in the army, but not before being given the sort of education that would stand him in good stead.
He attended Eton where he excelled at Latin and hated Greek and it was there that he established the lifestyle that he came to cherish, namely the pursuit of hunting by day and woman by night as he later admitted:
I was early introduced into life, and often kept both good and bad company; associated with men both good and bad, and with lewd women, and women not lewd, wicked and not wicked; – in short, with men and women of every description, and of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, from St. James’s to St. Giles’s; in palaces and night cellars; from the drawing-room to the dust cart. Human nature is in general frail, and mine I confess has been wonderfully so.
On leaving Eton, Hanger was packed off to the University of Göttingen where he stayed long enough to perfect his German before decamping to join the army of Frederick the Great.
Returning to England in 1771 he joined 1st Regiment of Footguards as an ensign. In reality Hanger did more socialising than soldiering, fought three duels and married a gypsy girl with whom he was deliriously happy right up until the moment she ran off with a tinker.
Hanger’s superiors realised that his heart wasn’t really in the business of soldiering and he was overlooked for promotion which irked him so much that he resigned and bought himself a captain’s commission in a jäger detachment and was off to the American Revolutionary War under General Knyphausen.
Hanger was active throughout the campaigns of the war, acquitting himself manfully both in the field and the officers’ mess (you can read more about that here) and was wounded leading a cavalry charge at Charlotte. He went to recuperate in Bermuda where he succumbed to yellow fever which he cured with a diet of port wine laced with opium.
He put soldiering behind him and returned to Europe and his favourite occupations of drinking, gambling and whoring which earned him the friendship of the Hanoverian prince of Wales, later George IV. (Read about his debut at court)
Of all Hanger’s eccentric exploits, perhaps the oddest was the £500 wager he placed on a ten mile foot race between twenty turkeys and twenty geese. The turkeys dropped out after three miles and Hanger lost the bet.
Hanger accompanied the prince on his travels around England, helping to keep the crowds at bay, and on one occasion in Plymouth was made to pay for his high-handedness when a fish-woman sent him sprawling, much to the delight of the cartoonists of the day.
But it was a lifestyle he couldn’t support. His major’s half-pay didn’t even cover his tailor’s bill and as gambling was his only source of income his debts finally caught up with him in 1798 when he was made a prisoner of the King’s bench.
Hanger’s wealthy friends rallied round and offered to make his stay in prison more bearable, but he refused their help, choosing instead to suffer the full degradation of debtors’ prison. And when he was finally released eighteen months later he was a changed man, one who had decided to go into trade as a coal merchant.
Far from hiding his new found inferior status, Hanger went out of his way to draw attention to it. Even when he inherited the title Baron Coleraine after his brother’s death, he corrected anyone who addressed him as baron by saying: ‘Plain George Hanger if you please.’ By then he was happier in the company of the lower orders and was once seen helping an old lady sell apples in Portland Road.
Much of what we know about him comes from his memoirs published in 1801 – The Life, Adventures of Col. George Hanger – which made him famous for the controversial advice it contained for women.
He suggested that women should settle affairs of honour by duelling themselves, rather than by dragging their menfolk into the dispute and that if they want to elope they should leave by the window rather than a door as ‘this will establish you in your lover’s opinion as a woman of spirit’.
Hanger also applauded the fashion for loose gowns which he said were ‘admirably suited to conceal pregnancies or for a shop-lifter to hide a bale of goods’, and he advised clergymen to supplement their income by hiring out blind men to beggar-women ‘who will find that a genuinely handicapped companion exerts a greater pull on the purse strings than a child or even a dog’.
But one proposal of his might find traction today as Scotland prepares to vote on devolution. Hanger advocated a tax on all Scotsmen who spend more than six months of the year south of the border!